Held in Portugal every other year since 1997, the Boom Festival focuses on sustainability, knowledge, spirituality, psychedelic arts, music, and culture. Boom attracts people from around the world—43,000 people attended from 152 countries in 2014—on the shores of a magnificent lake. Due to Portugal’s forward-thinking 2001 decriminalization law, Boom has been developing an unique harm reduction and risk minimization project since 2002.
Portugal is a country with a vast history of intercontinental discovery, Inquisition, earthquakes, the birth of Brazil, national bankruptcies, beautiful beaches, great surfing, and a laid-back way of life. In 2001, against all odds and strong internal criticism, a progressive drug decriminalization law was announced. It was the last attempt to solve a national epidemic of drug addiction during the 1980s and 1990s; a Eurobarometer survey conducted in 1997 showed that the Portuguese considered drug-related issues related to be the most important social problem in the country. It has been estimated that 0.7% of the Portuguese population has used heroin at least once (the second highest rate in Europe), and HIV cases have skyrocketed.
The 2001 law decriminalized possession of all drugs for consumption as the most effective way to limit consumption and reduce the number of addicts. It encouraged and promoted prevention and education projects, including harm reduction, treatment programs, and activities that helped at-risk groups or drug users to restore their connections with family, work, and society. It was in this context that Boom Festival began developing our own harm reduction—Kosmicare (formerly CosmiKiva Sanctuary)—back in 2002.
The idea of a drug-free society is an illusion that will never come true. The same goes for festivals. Drug users report using drugs (alcohol included) for a large number of reasons: to address personal problems, recreation, pleasure, spiritual growth, transcendence, potentiating personal insights, getting in touch with their inner world, increasing creativity, and more.
There were two phases of harm reduction and risk minimization at Boom. The first ran from 2002 to 2008, focused on drug use at the festival itself. The second phase, which began in 2010, focuses not only on intervention at the festival but also with the scientific discovery and validation of harm reduction methods. It is also in 2010 that pivotal partnerships started taking place, showing how progressive laws in Portugal could help festival participants. In that year, Boom Festival signed a unique protocol that involved the Institute for Drugs and Drug Addiction (IDT), part of the Portuguese Ministry of Health and the Catholic University of Porto. The protocol’s objectives were to improve intervention at the festival by maximizing resources and more effective liaisons with offsite health services. There was also a special effort to conduct scientific investigations in association with the University with the goal to transform Kosmicare into an evidence-based intervention model that could be disseminated to similar settings and populations.
Kosmicare now consists of a team of 40 people (psychiatrists, therapists, psychologists, homeopaths, therapists, and volunteers) working at the festival site in a central area with tipis, yurts, and a seating area. It has a drug testing service nearby one of the music areas where festival attendees can learn about the substances they have used or are considering using. The service also provides public alerts if necessary. The project also works in collaboration with the festival’s in-house medical services (doctors, medics and nurses), with offsite health services (hospitals or health centers in the region) and security stewards.
Decriminalization in Portugal created a legal framework for the implementation of harm reduction policies, and the social reintegration and de-stigmatization of drugs and drug use. For consumers, decriminalization eliminates the fear of testing their substances and undergoing treatment. This approach is humanistic (i.e., a sick or in-crisis person needs help) and pragmatic (i.e., repressive measures have been ineffective in limiting consumption). Our experience at Boom Festival has been very positive in that we have been successful in not only helping people avoid or process traumatic experiences, but also producing empirical data that can be used by any event organizer.
References by Maria do Carmo Carvalho, Catholic University of Porto, Boom Festival Team, and Kosmicare Manager.
International Drug Policy
Avilés, C. (2014). El regimen internacional de control de drogas: formación, evolución, y interacción con las políticas nacionales: el caso de la política de drogas en España. (investigação recente sobre a história da lei das drogas). CF ANEXOS
Quintas, J. (2011). Regulação legal do consumo de drogas: impactos da experiência portuguesa da descriminalização. (revision of legal models, emphasizing decriminalization regulations)
Boaz & Lynch (2009). The war on drugs. Cato Handbook for Policy makers. (North American perspective)
Decriminalization in Portugal
Quintas, J. (2011). Regulação legal do consumo de drogas: impactos da experiência portuguesa da descriminalização. (Evaluation of the decriminalization law in Portugal after 10 years, its impact and results: psychologic and criminal perspective.)
Costa (2009). Descriminalização do consumo de estupefacientes em Portugal: análise preliminar. (Evaluation of Portuguese law, judicial perspective.)
Domostawski (2011). Política das Drogas em Portugal: os benefícios da descriminalização do consumo de drogas. (Law evaluation, international perspective.)
Domostawski (2011). (in English).
Greenwald (2009). Drug decriminalization in Portugal. Lessons for creating fair and successful drug policies. (Evaluation of the Portuguese, law international perspective)
Law, Harm Reduction, and Risk Minimization
Costa (2001). Redução de Danos: preconceitos, obstáculos, justificações. (Critical analysis about common perspectives on HRRM before and right after the begin of the decriminalization law.)
Harm Reduction and Risk Minimization at Festivals
Hoof, L., A., & Adamowski, K. (1998). Creating excellence in crisis care: A guide to effective training and program designs. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
Lomba et al (2011). Jovens portugueses que frequentam ambientes recreativos noturnos. Quem são e que comportamentos adotam. (Research in some cities in Portugal underlining the relevance of HRRM.)
Parker, Williams & Aldridge (2002). The normalization of sensible recreational drug use. (UK research justifying the relevance of HRRM in festivals.)
Puente (2009). Kosmicare y Boom Festival 2008: atendiendo emergências psiquedelicas en la línea de frente. (History of Kosmicare/Kosmikiva at Boom Festival and drug testing.)
Artur Soares da Silva was born in Lisboa, Portugal. He is a member of Boom Festival, a social psychologist, and is pursuing his MA in culture management. Artur’s love for music led him to be active on many fronts on the electronic music scene in Portugal since the mid 1990s. He has been involved with Boom since the early days as party goer and production staff. He has worked on communication for magazines, websites and TV; has written and produced documentaries; organized music events; and studied the importance of music for the reduction of racism on poor neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Lisboa. His main intention as Boom team member is to support the Great Transition. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.